Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Being a writer -- the Balancing Act

There are lots of hard things about being a writer. It can be damn hard to find the sweet spot, the balance. There are so many things that have to be balanced just right: left brain, right brain; editing vs creating; confidence vs insecurity.

You're really your own boss, and sometimes the boss is too easy on you, letting you waste hours surfing the net when you should be productive, and sometimes the boss is too hard, doing nothing but criticize. At times you have to totally turn off the internal editor, letting the words flow, at other times you have to be completely and totally anal, poking at every word and phrase.

Writers who are too confident may stop learning. They figure that they already know everything that they need to know. Writers who are too insecure may never finish anything, may have a hard time getting anything done over the voice inside that whispers, "you'll never write anything good, who are you to think you can compete with all those good writers?"

You have to be a good business person to manage the business of writing, yet you have to be a creative person, who lives to create story worlds. You have to be sane enough to handle life well, get things done, yet be crazy enough to think you have a chance to succeed at this.

You have to like people, be interested enough in them that creating story people is fascinating and absorbing, yet be willing to spend the majority of your day alone, putting words to paper. You have to feel things deeply enough to convey the emotions to your readers, yet be able to step back and look at it all as an observer.

You have to love to read, yet be willing to give it up for long periods of time to create things for others to read, because otherwise you'll never get anything done. You have to be motivated to sell, to write what the market demands, yet be true to yourself and write only stories that mean something to you.

When I think of everything that has to be just right, that has to be balanced between two opposing forces, I'm surprised that anybody manages to write for a living.

My congratulations to everybody out there who's done it!


Saturday, April 7, 2007

Fiction genre wars...

A subscriber to a list that I belong to recently insisted over and over that the quality of writing in romance is very low. It was infuriating because other members pointed out the large number of romances that are published, the fact that there is poor writing in other genres, etc., etc., and she just would not listen. She kept insisting that there was more bad writing in romance than in other genres.

I've certainly complained about the writing in some of the romances that I've read, but I read and enjoy a few of the authors that she was slamming, and they do NOT write poorly. Some of them aren't to my taste, but I wouldn't criticize the writing because of that. Conventions are different in different genres. The expectations of the readers are different. Writing that might be considered "good" in one genre, is considered "bad" in other genres.

My guess is that what many people have a hard time with in romance is the emphasis on the emotions of the characters. I read fairly heavily in two genres--SF and romance. And you do have to switch gears when going from one to the other.
If you aren't used to romance conventions, don't read a lot of romances, then I'm sure that the degree to which the story dwells on emotions may seem ... purple. The plots may not be appealing to you. But these are the plots and the writing that readers of romance want.

I think that it all goes back to the question of which emotions you want to experience in your reading. Romance readers read to experience the thrill of falling in love, the joy of knowing that somebody else loves you more than anybody else, the feeling that you are special and important to the person that you care about most in the world. If these are NOT emotions that you want to experience, the plots and writing that are designed to create these emotions may well feel irritating and pointless. But it doesn't mean that the writing is poor. The writing may well be perfectly designed for the book's audience. It's just that you are not a member of the intended audience.

Many times when I read mainstream fiction that other people have raved about, I find the books trivial and irritating. The deep insights into the human condition that other people enjoy, I find obvious. The plots feel manipulated to produce a particular "lesson" that is invalidated by the fact that people wouldn't really act that way. This doesn't mean that the writing is bad. It means that I am not the book's intended audience.

Almost all the books that I enjoy are forms of fantasy. To me, a lot of mainstream fiction seems designed to produce false feelings of understanding and mastery over the world. To me, they seem just as much fantasy as actual fantasies--except that they aren't honest about it. I know that other people don't feel the same way. They enjoy whatever feelings it is that those books create in them. I don't.

All fiction is designed to create emotions in the reader. Different readers want to feel different emotions. Different genres of fiction are created for different audiences.

I wish people would leave it at that, and not insist that an entire genre is badly written, just because it is not to their taste.